musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Solo motets and duets from 17th-century Italy

[I] Ghirlanda Sacra
Ensemble Primi Toni
Dir: Nicola Lamon
rec: Feb 2011, Vallombrosa, Abbazia
Tactus - TC 620080 (3 CDs) (© 2013) (2.48'20")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Giacomo ARIGONI (1597-1675): Bone Jesu; Domine Jesu Christe; Tota pulchra es; Bartolomeo BARBARINO (?-after 1640): Audi dulcis amica; Venite ad me; Giovanni Pietro BERTI (1590-1638): Hodie apparuerunt delitiae; Giacinto BONDIOLI (1596-1636): Ave verum corpus; Pietro Francesco Caletti BRUNI (Francesco CAVALLI) (1602-1676): Cantate Domino; Giovanni Paolo CAPRIOLI (?-c1627): Congratulamini mihi omnes; In lectulo per noctes; Dario CASTELLO (fl 1620-1630): Exultate Deo; Sonata Quarta. A Doi. Soprano & Trombone Overo Violeta; Giacomo FINETTI (fl 1605-1631): Beata es virgo Maria; Domine quis habitabit; Amadio FREDDI (fl 1594–1634): Cognoscam te Domine; Salve Regina; Leandro GALLERANO (?-1631): Gaudeamus omnes; Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630): Cantabo Domino; Exaudi me Domine; O quam tu pulchra es; Quam pulchra es spetiosa; Giulio Cesare MARTINENGO (1564/68-1613): Regnum mundi; Giovanni MASSICCIO (fl 1620s): Accipe dilecte mi; Carlo MILANUZZI (?-1647) Anima miseranda; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Currite populi (SV 297); Ecce sacrum paratum convivium (SV 299); O quam pulchra es (SV 317); Salve Regina (SV 327); Domenico OBIZZI (1611/12-after 1630): Jubilate Deo; Giovanni PICCHI (fl 1600-1625): Salve Christe; Giovanni POZZO (fl 1620s): Veni Sancte Spiritus; Giovanni PRIULI (1575-1626): Ave dulcissima Maria; Inter natos mulierum; Giovanni ROVETTA (c1596-1668): O Maria quam pulchra es; Guido ROVETTO (fl 1620s): Gaudete omnes; Giovanni Maria SABINO Napoletano (1588-1649): Crux fidelis; Ecce panis angelorum; O sacrum convivium; Repleatur os meum; Giovanni Maria SCORZUTO (fl 1625-1636): Domine Deus salutis; O bone Jesu; Andrea STELLA (fl 1620s): Bonum est confiteri Domino; Confitebor tibi Domine; Francesco USPER (c1560/61-1641): Nativitas tua; Vulnerasti cor meum

Roberta Andaḷ, Claudia Conese, Diana Trivellato, soprano; Jacopo Facchini, alto; Alberto Allegrezza, Raffaele Giordani, tenor; Andrea Inghisciano, cornett; Manuel Cester, dulcian; Rosita Ippolito, viola da gamba; Giovanni Bellini, Pierpaolo Ciurlia, theorbo; Nicola Lamon, harpsichord, organ

[II] "Cantate Deo - A voce sola, in dialogo"
Marco Beasley, tenora
Dir: Guido Morini
rec: Feb 25 - March 1, 213, Martinengo, Santa Maria Incoronata
Alpha - 535 (© 2013) (61'57")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Cherubino BUSATTI (?-1644): Surrexit pastor bonusa [6]; Giovanni Paolo CAPRIOLI (?-c1627): Salve Reginaa [4]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-c1622): Sonata a 3 [1]; Ignazio DONATI (1570-1638): Cantate Deoa [2]; In te, Domine, speravia [2]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1571-1630): Sonata VII [7]; Giuseppe GIAMBERTI (1600-1662): Virgo prudentissimaa [9]; Alessandro GRANDI (1586-1630): Cantabo Dominoa [3]; O beate Hieronymea [3]; Bonifacio GRAZIANI (1604-1664): Ave maris stellaa [9]; Biagio MARINI (1587-1663): Sonata a 3 sopra Fuggi dolente core [10]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Jubilet tota civitas (SV 286)a [8]; Salve Regina (SV 284)a [8]; Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600-1679): Stabat mater dolorosaa [5]

[1] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; [2] Ignazio Donati, Concerti Ecclesiastici a 2, 3, 4, 5 voci, op. 4, 1618; [3] Alessandro Grandi, Motetti a 1, 2 e 4 voci con sinfonie, libro II, 1625; [4] Giovanni Paolo Caprioli, Armoniae Cantiones, op. 3, 1635; [5] Giovanni Felice Sances, Motetti a voce sola, 1638; [6] Cherubino Busatti, Compago ecclesiasticorum motectorum, op. 3, 1640; [7] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1.2.3. per il violino, o cornetto, 1641; [8] Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1641; [9] div, Vespro dell'Assunzione, after 1650; [10] Biagio Marini, Sonate da chiesa, libro III, 1655

Rossella Croce, Elisa Citterio, violin; Francesco Galligioni, cello; Franco Pavan, theorbo; Guido Morini, harpsichord, organ

The year 1600 is often used as a pivoting point in the history of music. It is connected to the emergence of the seconda prattica or stile nuovo. Features of these are the monody - a vocal piece for solo voice(s) and bc -, the emergence of opera and the birth of instrumental virtuosity. However, these developments had their roots in the latter decades of the 16th century. Instrumental virtuosity was already present in the diminutions on vocal parts and large-scale vocal works with a theatrical character were performed before 1600. One feature of the monody was the concentration on the text and the communication of the affetti of a piece. This was prefigured in the late 16th-century madrigal in which words and phrases were often graphically depicted in the music.

The monodic principle was first applied in secular music, for instance in Giulio Caccini's ground-breaking collection Le Nuove Musiche. It didn't take long until it was incorporated in sacred music as well. Most composers continued to write in the traditional polyphonic style, and that includes one of the main representatives of the stile nuovo, Claudio Monteverdi. At the same time many composers also experimented with the possibilities of the monodic style. One of the first was Ludovico Grossi da Viadana, whose Concerti Ecclesiastici date from 1602. In the next decades large numbers of solo motets were composed and printed. The two productions to be reviewed here bear witness to that. They show the variety within the genre, not only stylistically but also in scoring. On the one hand we find pieces which follow the bare principle of monody: one voice and basso continuo. The 44 motets in the collection Ghirlanda Sacra are of this type. Marco Beasley has chosen solo motets and pieces for two voices, either with basso continuo alone or with additional parts for two violins. The monodic principle was extended to larger-scale pieces, scored for an ensemble of the 16th-century type, but with inserted (solo) vocal parts in monodic style. The Vespers Psalms by the likes of Viadana and Monteverdi are examples of this practice.

Pieces for such small scorings could be performed various occasions. They were probably sung in domestic surroundings in the palaces of the aristocracy or in their chapels, but also in smaller churches which didn't have large musical forces at their disposal. This could also explain the variety in technical requirements between the motets in, for instance, Ghirlanda Sacra. A superficial look at the scores suffices to conclude that some pieces are pretty straightforward whereas in other motets one sees some long strings of notes moving up and down. Solo motets could also be used in the liturgy of larger churches, for instance as part of the Vespers. Every Vespers Psalm was preceded by an antiphon which was to be repeated after the Psalm. However, it became common practice to replace the repeated antiphon with a vocal or instrumental piece. As the antiphons varied dependent on the time of the ecclesiastical year or the feast which was celebrated, maestri di cappella had to choose a piece with a suitable text. Ghirlanda Sacra reflects this. It was printed in Venice and edited by Leonardo Simonetti, a castrato singer in San Marco since 1613. This explains that the composers who are represented in the collection are from Venice or the region, the Veneto. It can also explain the large number of texts which refer to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. She was one of the patron saints of the city. Moreover, the Marian cult was an important element of the Counter-Reformation which started to take root.

Although the motets are different in style and technique, most of them require skilled singers. Those pieces which look quite simple and omit any coloratura cannot be performed as they have been printed. A singer was expected to add ornamentation at various places, not in the first place to show off, but at the service of expression. The text had to be communicated, and to that end the rhythm should be treated with considerable freedom. The latter does not apply to strophic pieces, often based on a basso ostinato. Another important instrument was the messa di voce, a sudden crescendo followed by a decrescendo, to mark particularly emotional parts of the text.

The performance of this repertoire is anything but easy. Technically it is demanding, but doing justice to the emotional content is even harder. Many recordings are technically alright, but leave much to be desired in the latter department. That is partly true for these two recordings as well.

One could question the sense of a recording of the complete Ghirlanda Sacra. Obviously these pieces were not intended to be listened to one after the other. I certainly would not advise anyone to do so, as exciting as this repertoire is. Pieces like these come off best if they are included in a liturgical 'reconstruction'. That said, this collection is often mentioned in books and liner-notes, and its importance can hardly be overrated. This production's value is first and foremost documentary. That is even more the case as the performances are not always of the highest standard. The singers have all nice voices, and unstylish vibrato is avoided. However, in some motets the range of the vocal part causes considerable trouble. Especially Roberta Andaḷ and Jacopo Facchini sound sometimes stressed in the upper range of their voice. Diana Trivellato is the most authoritative of the sopranos. She has no technical problems and sings with great security. In regard to expression things are varied. Ms Trivellato is again top of the bill, and Raffaele Giordani makes a very good impression as well. In comparison Alberto Allegrezza is rather bland; he also adds very little ornamentation, and the same goes for Facchini, who sometimes adds no ornaments at all. In general this aspect is rather unsatisfying: the ornaments - improvised or written-out - are technically correct, but their application is rather inconsistent and sparse. Some pieces are preceded by a short instrumental introduction, either an existing piece or an improvisation, but again why it is added in some cases and not in others is anybody's guess. The connection between text and music will remain largely a mystery to those who don't understand Latin. A pdf document with the lyrics can be downloaded from the Tactus site, but it omits translations.

The pieces in Ghirlanda Sacra are all from the first decades of the 17th century. Marco Beasley has also chosen motets from a later period. His programme begins with Ave maris stella by Bonifacio Graziani, from a collection which dates from after 1650. It shows that the stile nuovo gradually moved away from its strict principles: the music - melody - has gained some weight, and there are clear elements of what one could call an 'aria'. It is comparable to the way the operas by, for instance, Carissimi, differ from the first operas of the century, such as Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. Beasley has no technical problems at all, and he feels completely at home in this repertoire. He uses the messa di voce where it is due, for instance on "O" in O beate Hieronime by Alessandro Grandi. His ornamentation is technically impeccable, but he is also rather economical in its addition. This is one of the issues in the performance of this repertoire: it should not be overloaded with ornaments, but one should also be not too sparing. These two recordings are rather guilty of the latter than of the former.

There are two issues which are notable in Beasley's recording. First of all, he sings duets with himself. I am vehemently opposed to such practices. In my view a recording should be like a live performance, and everything should be avoided which would be impossible without technical tricks. I also don't see the need for this. If he can't find a singer who is a good match, than he should confine himself to solo motets and leave duets to others. Secondly, some pieces which were scored for voice and bc are performed here with violins. This concerns at least two motets which I know from other recordings: Stabat mater dolorosa by Giovanni Felice Sances, and Surrexit pastor bonus by Cherubino Busatti. In his liner-notes Franco Pavan writes that there are indications that solo motets were sometimes 'orchestrated'. He sees some hints for this practice in Ghirlanda Sacra as well. I have listened to the Tactus recording with the score in front of me, but I couldn't see anything which suggests the addition of instruments. In the cases I just mentioned I don't see in what way they add to what the composers have written down. I rather consider their effect as negative.

That brings me to the last - and most important - aspect of this disc: the expression. Beasley has a nice voice and his singing is very natural. He often acts like a kind of troubadour, and that suits his voice perfectly. However, in this repertoire I feel something is missing. His performances are almost understated and lack weight and intensity. I admire his singing and the way he deals with various aspects of performance practice. But I was never touched when I listened to his performances, not even in Sances setting of the Stabat mater which I have heard in several incisive performances. Beasley's account of this work left me rather cold and uninvolved. Maybe that is just personal - sometimes you just can't connect to a singer or his way of singing. Even so, the communication of the affetti is the main issue in the performance of this repertoire, and I haven't heard much of that in either of these two recordings.

Just the same, I find this repertoire endlessly fascinating, and I am happy to have these discs in my collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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Ensemble Accordone

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